A Day Chasing Steam - The Santa Fe 3751 Heads South with San Diego Steam Special II - Part 1

It was with much anticipation and uncertainty of the coming day’s outcome that I left for the Fullerton Amtrak Station to begin the chase of the San Diego Steam Special II and the 3751.  I was already an hour or so behind schedule and as I packed the truck I realized that this trip was going to be different. Despite being aware of this special run since last year I found myself unprepared due to a series of family illnesses.

I normally travel with my best friend and rail scout, Debbie, my wife. Although she was willing to accompany me on this trip I felt she needed some rest so I fired up the Cummins diesel and headed out alone. 

As I drove south towards Fullerton I planned my day’s objectives and gave careful considerations to my expectations for this trip. I normally like to hang by a picturesque location and wait for the trains to come to me. This time I knew I couldn’t do that because my goal was to capture the Santa Fe 3751 in all of her glory at several locations as she headed south to San Diego with the San Diego Steam Special II.

Realizing that the Orange and northern San Diego counties left me disadvantaged in terms of knowing the more scenic locations and track alignment, I convinced a friend of mine to meet up with me in San Juan Capistrano for a day of chasing steel, er steam. Dan is a great guy who lives in Orange County and likes adventure so he agreed to do it. (Thanks Dan!) But first I wanted some photos of the train as she came into Fullerton.

As I neared Fullerton I tempered my expectations because I knew there would already be a crowd gathered and, for a rail photographer, it is very tough to get a great shot of any train when the public is on location as well. Not everyone understands the situation and shares an awareness of fellow photographers and “getting out of the shot.”

I found one of last remaining spots on the eastern end of the parking lot and was not disappointed. There was a huge crowd already in position at the station, on the platforms and crowding the pedestrian bridge that crossed the three mainlines of BNSF’s San Bernardino Subdivision that comprises the rail head at the Fullerton station.

Looking west towards the Fullerton Amtrak station and the crowd gathered to see the Santa Fe No. 3751 leading the San Diego Steam Speciall II on May 1, 2010. (Photo: Joe Perry)

There were all types of folks present, which was great to see. This event, probably based solely on the anticipated presence of the beautiful 3751, drew more than the average “train crowd.” It was great to see fathers and daughters, moms and sons, and even grandparents all filled with excitement and anticipation. There were even actual tourists from other countries present. This was a big deal.

As I looked around for my “spot,” I had already accepted the notion that I was there to record the “event” and not focus on getting the best shots of the 3751. Hopefully there would be ample time for that later in the chase as the train headed to San Diego.

I found a decent spot with OK lighting on the edge of the northeast parking area by a spur track that is home to a nice collection of Cabooses.  Ideally the best spot, based on the location of the sun and the arrival track, would have been on the southeast side of the station complex. However, I opted to stay close to my truck so I could egress the area quickly to get ahead of the train was I had gathered some shots.

Literally every opening along or near the right-of-way not blocked my some obstruction like a fence or such, and some as that were as well, where home to pockets of photographers and sightseers. This train would be fully documented by the day’s end, without a doubt.

Several Metrolink trains and a finally southbound (eastbound) Surfliner came into the station. A fellow fan commented that the arrival of the Surfliner signaled that the 3751 would be arriving soon since she was gonna run between two of the hourly-spaced Surfliners. I took a few test shots of these trains to triple-check my camera’s settings.

Sure enough, at 9:33 AM the train could be heard first blowing her steam whistle at the crossings west of the station and then finally seen. The crowd cheered and shifted locations with glee.

Kids, of all sizes and filled with excitement, race closer towards Track 3 to see the 3751 when can be seen approaching Fullerton, CA in the distance.With all of the fanfare, I suspect, of a 1940’s train carrying Hollywood’s latest heart-throb into the station at Pasadena or Los Angeles, California, the 3751 slowly drifted into the station on Track 3 with camera shutters firing ad nauseam. Dads lifted little ones onto their shoulders to see over the crowd as “That’ll do 3751,” broke over the radio channel.  As she slowly came to a stop, the crowd rushed forward across the tracks for a closer look. Again, I was glad I tempered my expectations!

The 3751 brings the San Steam Special II to a stop on Track 3 at Fullerton, CA as the crowd draws nearer. (Photo: Joe Perry)

I photographed the scene best as I could as I also marveled at the sight of the engine and the sheer power she conveyed as she hissed and spouted as if to say “let’s go!” That reminded me that I should wrap it up as well because soon the train would be on her way south and all of these people will be taking to the roads. So I took a few parting shots as the engineer of the 3751 began to release some steam to the crowd’s delight.

The engineer puts on a show for the crowd.Now the true “chase” begins. (Continued in part 2…)

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